Faculty of Agriculture
The Faculty of Agriculture, University of Belgrade, is the largest of three faculties for the agricultural sciences in Serbia, employing 282 teaching and research staff members. It consists of eight institutes which focus on crop science, fruit science and viticulture, animal science, land management, plant and food protection, agricultural engineering, food technology and agricultural economics. The Faculty has gained extensive research and managerial experience in EU projects, through several previous FP6 and FP7 projects, seven of which have included AREA teams. For instance, AREA team memebers coordinated FP6 SSA project CROPWAT, as well as FP7 project ROSA. Although aspects of the FA’s research have an international dimension, most research is geared towards the needs of Serbian agriculture and local food industries. The Faculty’s research is also industry-oriented and, currently, several products (including red and white wines, various spirits, juices and jams) are manufactured at the Faculty’s estate.
Specifically, AREA project has been built on the existing expertise of 13 research groups, representing six of the Faculty’s eight research institutes, which have already demonstrated strength of their research programmes internationally. An additional group (INTPRO), lead by the Faculty’s General Secretary, has been formed to develop and implement the Plan for Intellectual Property and Innovation (IPI) capacity building at the Faculty.
AREA project groups
1. Plant stress physiology group (PLANTPHYS) - Team leader: Prof Radmila Stikić; Team members: Prof Zorica Jovanović, Assist. Prof Ljiljana Prokić, 2 PhD students.
The major research objective is to characterize the processes and to identify the traits that determine crop physiological responses and tolerance to abiotic stress, with particular emphasis on theoretical and practical applications of stress signaling mechanisms (such as deficit irrigation methods). During the AREA project and following the training at INRA, the team plans to extend its expertise to: a) quantitative trait loci (QTL) analysis, in order to provide phenotypic characterization of genetic stocks also characterized with molecular markers; b) expression pattern quantification of abiotic stress response candidate genes; c) DNA-based methodology for analyzing tomato fruit development.
2. Functional crop anatomy group (FUNCROPS) - Team leader: Prof Sofija Pekić Quarrie; Team members: Assist.Prof Dragana Rančić, MSc Ilinka Pećinar (teaching assistant), 1 PhD students.
Group research is focused on plant structures involved in particular processes within crop plants, with emphasis on those that are important for crop productivity. The major objective is to characterize structures involved in plant responses to water stress, especially in reproductive parts of crop plants. The new research approach, to be achieved during AREA and following the training at the University of Jena, is to couple cytological analysis with localization of various substances regulating fruit growth by Raman microscopy/spectroscopy.
3. Biodiversity research group (BIODIV) - Team leader: Prof Zora Dajić Stevanović; Team members: Assoc. Prof Marina Mačukanović Jocić, Assist. Prof Ivan Šostarić, Svetlana Acić (teaching assistant), 1 PhD student.
The group aims to characterize plant biodiversity, mainly flora and vegetation indigenous to Serbia and Balkans. In collaboration with the Reading University, team plans to upgrade and innovate its dynamic research in plant biodiversity, especially related to molecular taxonomy and photochemistry. This will be achieved by establishing a Laboratory for Plant Molecular Taxonomy and, following the training at the University of Jena, applying Raman microscopy. The expected outcomes include strengthened research competitiveness within the EU, as well as application of market-oriented approach (such as application of new technology for fast screening of plant medical raw materials).
4. Fruit breeding group (FRUITBREED) - Team leader: Prof Dragan Nikolić; Team members: Assoc. Prof Dragan Milatović, Assist. Prof Milica Fotirić Akšić, Dejan Đurović, 1 PhD student.
The group’s main research aims are: creation of new varieties of fruit trees and grapevine, exploration and utilization of fruit trees genetic resources and study of the processes involved in flowering and fertilization of fruit trees (especially incompatibility). Training at the University of Reading, together with newly gained AREA expertise, will allow the team to advance research in fruit breeding, particularly through introducing DNA-based technologies, such as methods for DNA fingerprinting of cultivars and genotypes of different fruit species and grapevine. The group also plans to introduce molecular methods for S-genotyping of stone fruit species, such as apricot, plum, cherry and almond, as well as for a new more efficient breeding process.
5. Weed Science Group (WEEDSCI) - Team leader: Prof Sava Vrbničanin; Team members: Assist. Prof. Dragana Božić, 2 PhD students.
Group aims to: (i) detect and monitor weed/crop resistance to herbicides, (ii) prevent introduction and dispersal of quarantine and alien invasive weed species, as a potential group of economically harmful weeds in the region, and (iii) improve its capabilities by adopting a variety of molecular techniques (such as RFLP, PCR). The newly gained expertise following the training at University of Reading, and during the AREA project in general, will allow the team to: introduce more effective molecular methods for testing target site weed/crop resistance to herbicides and determining weed species and introduce new methods (such as Raman spectroscopy, in collaboration with other groups) for detecting non-target site weed/crop resistance to herbicides.
6. Carp aquaculture group (AQUACARP) - Team leader: Prof Zoran Marković; Team members: Prof Vesna Poleksić, Assist. Prof Zorka Dulić; Teaching assistants Marko Stanković and Božidar Rašković, 3 PhD students.
The goal of the team within the AREA project is to continue expanding the expertise gained during a recent FP7 ROSA project, which was focused on selection, nutrition and production aspects of carp aquaculture, by introducing DNA-based methodologies. Future research based on genetic methods is envisioned in three main directions: 1) Use of DNA methods, as a tool in quantitative carp genetics, and their application in the current breeding program, especially for genetic analysis of hard-to-select traits, such as disease resistance. Access to DNA genotyping technology would find its immediate use in the assignment of parentage. 2) Utilization of DNA-based technologies (in collaboration with Nofima) as a valuable tool for assessing genetic diversity, effective population sizes and reproductive variance of zooplankton and zoobenthos species, a long standing interest of the group. 3) As carp is often characterized by excessive deposition of intramuscular fat, use of Raman spectroscopy (training to be done at the University of Jena) will allow the study of flesh quality. Such high-resolution spectroscopic information of individual fish would provide feedback into the selection program, to improve the genetic basis of lean growth.
7. Microbial ecology group (MICROBECOL) - Team leader: Prof Vera Raičević; Team members: Assist. Prof Blažo Lalević; Igor Kljujev (teaching assistant), Jelena Jovicic Petrovic (teaching assistant) and 3 PhD students.
The group aims to introduce the most valuable methods for early detection of human pathogens and their identification, to minimize chemical and microbial environmental contamination, as well as to repair consequences of accidents via bioremediation. A particular interest is application of new research methodologies to examine naturally-occurring plant growth promoting microorganisms (PGPM) and bioremediation. Specifically, the group intends to improve the accuracy of genetic fingerprinting of microbial populations from different environmental sources that have a promissing potential for application in the industry, crop production, and waste management to ensure food safety. Introduction of fingerprinting with strain-specific DNA markers (in collaboration with Helmholtz Zentrum München) and species-specific Raman spectroscopy (training to be done at the University of Jena) are the key driving forces in taking the scientific research forward and enriching it with market-oriented aspects (such as new and improved bioremediation methods, new biofertilizers).
8. Phytobacteriology group (PHYTOBAC) - Team leader: Prof Aleksa Obradović; Team members: Assist. Prof Dr Milan Ivanovic, MSc Dragutin Antonijević (teaching assistant), 3 PhD students.
The strategic research plan of the team is to excel its expertise in the area of economically significant prokaryotes affecting agricultural and ornamental crops in Serbia, in order to prevent their introduction and spread, as well as improve control strategies. The group’s vision is to apply the most sensitive and reliable methods for pathogen early detection and identification, particularly the newest molecular biology techniques for detection of phytopathogenic fastidious bacteria and non-culturable mollicutes. Expanding current knowledge and improving and gaining expertise in new methods will be done through trainings in collaboration with Dutch General Inspection Service.
9. Plant virus and fungus molecular diagnostics group (MICRODIAG) - Team leader: Prof Branka Krstić; Team members: Assoc. Prof Aleksandra Bulajić, Assist. Prof Ivana Stankovic, 2 PhD students, 1 MSc student.
The group aims to improve the ability to prevent introduction of quarantine and new plant viruses and fungi, characterize these pathogens by adopting a variety of molecular diagnostic tools (which overcome constraints of biological and serological techniques and allow quantification of target pathogen DNA), and study population genetics of pathogens of interest (DNA fingerprinting). As a result of the newly acquired expertise (training to be performed at the University of Bari), the team plans to: (i) extend diagnostics to a wider range of quarantine and economically important virus and fungal pathogens that are below detection level in naturally infected hosts and (ii) detect these pathogens in various environmental samples, thus opening new research opportunities for the study of inoculum threshold levels, sources of infection, as well as evolutionary studies based on phylogenetic analyses. Adopting tools for bar coding pathogen DNA and a reliable database of deposited pathogen sequences will enable studies of gene expression profiling. It will further enable preparation of specific commercial diagnostic protocols for the quarantine of plant pathogenic viruses and fungi.
10. Food biochemistry group (FOODBIOCHEM) - Team leader: Prof Biljana Vucelić-Radović; Team members: Prof Mirjana Milovanovic, Assist. Prof Sladjana Stanojević, Assoc. Prof Mirjana Demin, 2 PhD students.
Using existing and new methods, group’s mission is to research the variation in crop composition that may lead to identifying significant differences in food processing characteristics, as well as food product quality (with particular interest in soybeans, wheat, pseudo cereals, medicinal and culinary herbs). In collaboration with the University of Parma, the group plans to upgrade their existing genomic and proteomic tools for characterizing raw materials, food processing and food quality with: (i) DNA marker technologies for food tracing and GMO testing; (ii) non-invasive Raman microscopy for raw material characterization. Further, newly acquired methods will: (i) help introduce new dietary products of increased nutritive value, such as soybean protein products (tofu and okara) and bread, bakery products and cookies with pseudo cereals (such as quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat); (ii) significantly improve current products, such as bread, bakery products and cookies with reduced gluten content; (iii) launch new technology for the production of these new baking products.
11. Food biotechnology group (FOODBIOTECH) - Team leader: Prof Dr Miomir Nikšić; Team members: Assist. Prof Anita Klaus, Assist. Prof. Maja Kozarski, Milena Savić (teaching assistant), 3 PhD students.
Group’s goals are to produce new and improve existing food and dietetic products, enriched with microbes and their products, primarily the ones based on industrial medicinal mushrooms and their products, with addition of medicinal herbs. This will be achieved through improved understanding of physiological, biological and genetic characteristics of medicinal mushrooms. Thus, the team plans to extend biological and serological techniques through upgrading molecular diagnostics of medicinal mushrooms. Following the training at University of Jena, the group intends to utilize Raman microscopy/spectroscopy in order to detect the quantity and quality of biologically active compounds. These efforts will open up new research avenues and commercial opportunities in the areas of food products and pharmaceutical industry.
12. Food technology group (FOODTECH) – Team leader: Prof. Predrag Puđa; Team members: Assoc. Prof Zorica Radulović, Assist. Prof Jelena Miočinović, Milica Petrušić (teaching assistant), 3 PhD students.
Food technology group has a mission to standardize the production of traditional food products, mainly dairy products, as well as to generate and improve new products with functional and dietetic properties. The group plans to extend biological techniques, such as DNA-based methods for upgrading molecular diagnostics of autochthonous strains of lactic acid bacteria, as well as reliable, fast and cost-effective methods for DNA extractions and PCR amplifications along the complex dairy food chain. Training in DNA-based technologies will take place at the University of Parma. Additionally, the group plans to implement Raman microscopy/spectroscopy (training to be done at the University of Jena), in order to analyze microbiological status, composition and properties of different dairy products. These efforts will gain insight into influence of various factors on quality and safety of traditional products, as well as improvement of their production.
13. Immobilization (encapsulation) biotechnology group (IMMOBIOG) - Team leader: Assoc. Prof Viktor Nedović; Team members: Assoc. Prof Andreja Rajković, Assist. Prof Tanja Petrović, Steva Lević (teaching assistant), Sasa Despotovic (teaching assistant) 3PhD students.
Prof Nedović’s research group studies added-value food production and food fermentation processes, particularly in developing new techniques and new materials for encapsulation/immobilization of plant, yeast and bacterial cells, tissues and bioactive (chemical) compounds. Major goals are encapsulation of yeast, probiotic cells and aroma compounds, accelerating fermentation processes (yeast encapsulation), improving the stability of various sensible bacterial strains in real environmental conditions, as well as creating genetically-defined stocks of probiotic bacteria from Serbia. The team plans to: (i) apply and improve encapsulation techniques for various core and matrix materials in the food industry, and (ii) implement Raman microscopy/spectroscopy techniques (training at the University of Jena) to determine the quantity and quality of encapsulated biologically active compounds, cells and other suitable core materials.
14. Intellectual property and innovation group (INTPRO) - Team leader Bogdan Mladenović, Dipl.Iur. (Faculty’s General Secretary and Department of Legal Affairs Head); Team members: Minja Dučić, Katarina Šmakić (PR) .
INTPRO group staff, trained at the University of Zagreb,, together with key AREA team leaders, will be responsible for preparing the AREA group technology and market portfolio, preparing and updating Intellectual Property Innovation (IPI) Plan guidelines, as well as day-to-day management of AREA IPI issues. They will also help to set up the Faculty’s Unit for Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer, whose role will be to evaluate the commercial potential of prospective innovations at the Faculty of Agriculture. The Unit will also seek to identify potential partners for further technology development and exploitation and subsequently negotiate the terms of such collaborations.
Financial secretary: Mirjana Mihajlović
Project secretaries: Jelena Jovičić Petrović (teaching assistant) and PhD student Milena Marjanović
EU institutions for training AREA groups
1. French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), Avignon, France (training for PLANTPHYS)
INRA is the leading agricultural institute in Europe. It carries out mission-oriented research for high-quality and healthy foods, competitive and sustainable agriculture and a preserved and valorized environment. URGV and PSH laboratories in Avignon will provide training in DNA techniques for PLANTPHYS young researchers, using tomato as a model organism. Training will be supervised by Dr Nadia Bertin.
2. Institute of Physical Chemistry (IPC), University of Jena, Germany
IPC is a spectroscopic research centre focused on development and application of innovative frequency-, time- and spatially-resolved laser spectroscopic methods and techniques, ranging from the UV to the NIR region. Given its world-renowned expertise in a wide range of Raman technologies, particularly in biological sciences, IPC will provide Raman microscopy/spectroscopy training to FUNCROPS, BIODIV, WEEDSCI, AQUACARP, MICROBECOL, FOODBIOTECH, FOODTECH and IMMOBIOG scientists. Prof. Michael Schmitt and Dr Petra Rosch will be responsible for organizing these trainings.
3. School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, UK
School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
School of Biological Sciences
Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)
The University of Reading is a leading research-intensive UK university, with a strategic focus on research in agri-food science, demonstrated by its ranking as the first in the UK (8th globally) based on the impact of its publications. At The University of Reading, young AREA researchers (BIODIV, FRUITBEED and WEEDSCI groups) will be trained in DNA technologies (including a range of molecular marker methods and DNA sequencing), specifically geared towards plant systematics and classification. Dr Tijana Blanusa and Dr Matthew Ordidge will be responsible for the trainins.
4. Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Research Unit Microbe-Plant Interactions, Working Group: Molecular Microbial Ecology, Germany
Research activities at the Department of Microbe-Plant Interactions, GmbH, focus on revealing signaling chains between microorganisms (i.e. bacteria, fungi) and plant roots on genomic, proteomic, biochemical, and metabolic levels. Given extensive experience in DNA-based technologies at the Center, young researcheres from MICROBECOL team will receive training in the application of DNA molecular tools for identification of environmentally important pathogenic bacteria and identifying plant growth-promoting rhizo-bacteria. Dr Michael Schmid will supervise the training.
5. Department of Laboratory Methods and Diagnostics, Dutch General Inspection Service (NAK), The Netherlands
NAK is the Dutch General Inspection Service for agricultural seeds and seed potatoes. NAK inspects seed and seed potato lots, based on norms defined in the plant passport framework, and carries out inspections of seed, seed potatoes and consumer goods. Phytobacteriology specialist, Dr Jaap Janse, will guide PHYTOBAC young researchers through application of molecular techniques for studying plant pathogenic prokaryotes.
6. Department of Plant Biology and Plant Pathology, University of Bari, Italy
The Plant Pathology Section of the DBPV-UNIBA is one of the leading research Institutes in Italy and the Mediterranean in the area of plant diseases. This center will host young MICRODIAG researchers and provide them with skills in state-of-the-art DNA technologies (nucleic-acid based molecular methods for identifying and quantifying emerging tospoviruses, cloning and sequencing methods for full-length viral genomes, RT-PCR of selected tomato and artichoke genes to study consequences of cucumo and nepoviruses infections). The training will be organized by Dr Tiziana Mascia.
7. Nofima Marine, Aas, Norway
Nofima Marine division performs cutting-edge research in the areas of fish nutrition, sustainable production, breeding and genetics, functional genomics, fish health and welfare, product quality, seafood processing and new product development. Thus, it is an ideal Center to provide training for AQUACARP scientists in the area of current DNA technologies, as applied to quantitative and population genetics. Dr Marijana Todorčević will be responsible for the training.
8. Department of Life Sciences, University of Parma, Italy
Department of Life Sciences at the University of Parma possesses expertise in ecology, molecular biology, genetics, environmental bio-technologies, microbiology, modeling, environmental impact assessment and theoretical biology. Trainings will be provided to FOODBIOCHEM and FOODTECH researchers in the area of food tracing using advanced molecular techniques (detecting, identifying and quantifying GMOs in foodstuffs, traceability and authenticity, such as identifying cultivar composition, food allergens detection). Training will be organized by Prof Elena Maestri.
9. Technology Transfer Office (TTO), University of Zagreb, Croatia (Subcontractor)
TTO at the University of Zagreb, has been chosen as a subcontractor, given that, in terms of IP, agriculture production and legislation in Croatia resemble these processes in Serbia. As Croatia has recently undergone the process of introducing IPI concept, TTO is quite familiar with recognizing and overcoming IPI problems and challenges. Thus, this Office will support activities of INTPRO and other market-oriented AREA groups, through organizing two training courses. The courses will be supervised by Dr Vlatka Petrović.
Researchers responsible for supervising trainings (except Dr Michael Schmid) also serve as AREA Steering Committee memebers.